How to make a dumb idea for a toilet even worse? Put it in a dumb bathroom.
Over at Fast Company, Ariel Schwartz writes about the Gates Foundation toilet that she says "will change how we think about poop." She describes how it works:
A toilet that uses a solar panel to power an electrochemical reactor, which breaks down waste into solids that can be used as fertilizer and hydrogen that can be stored in fuel cells to power the reactor when it's cloudy outside. A pump sends treated, recycled water back to a reservoir on the top of the toilet.
Now it is a wonderful thing, that the Gates Foundation is investing so much money in this attempt to improve sanitation and bring toilets to the developing world, and I am not going to go on again at length about how silly this toilet is, I did that last year in Crapping On Bill Gates' "Reinvent the Toilet" Winner. In summary, this toilet is not about dealing with poop, it is about dealing with the water that carries the poop, about separating poop from the water medium, and then turning the poop into fertilizer, which it pretty much is if you compost it without adding the water in the first place.
It doesn't change the way we think about poop; it enables us to continue thinking about poop exactly the way we do now, out of sight, out of mind, with a water flush. So why write about it again? Because they have made it even worse.
Youtube/Video screen capture
When Caltech originally displayed the winner, they had a squat version; that's what most people do in India. Only the very rich westernized types sit on a toilet. As Alexander Kira pointed out fifty years ago, sitting on a toilet is a really bad idea and squatting is much healthier. That's how our bodies were designed.
© Caltech/ Kohler via Fast Company
Then they have put it in the same room as the washing area, another thing that people have been doing for a hundred years in North America because it's convenient rather than healthy. Toilets should be in their own room, like they often do in Japan.
Then they have squeezed it in between two walls so that anyone who has the least bit of mobility trouble can't easily get on to it. It's a public washroom but there is not even an attempt at making it ADA compliant.
It is as if they made a list of everything that is wrong about the way we think about poop, toilets and bathrooms and they put it all together into one prototype.
We do need to reinvent the toilet. But it is not just a white porcelain thing that sits in a room, it is part of a system that is part of a larger societal picture, not a high tech package delivered in shipping containers. We really do have to change the way we think about poop, but this just carries on the same old tired and wet ideas.
For more background, read the History of the Bathroom in eight parts.